The security of a free state

By Charles Bloomer
web posted December 6, 1999

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." -- United States Constitution, Amendment II [1791]

In the overheated debate on gun control, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution gets dissected, deconstructed, scrutinized, dismembered, inspected, examined, pored over, analyzed and studied. In the end, interestingly enough, each side ends up emphasizing its favorite part. Anti-gunners dwell on the first part "A well regulated Militia…", while gun owners point to "…the right to keep and bears Arms shall not be infringed." But an important part of this Amendment is contained in the second half of the introductory phrase. "[T]he security of a free State…" provides a very clear justification for the right to keep and bear arms, and gives us the rationale for a "well regulated Militia".

This small segment of the Amendment contains an interesting choice of words. If the founding fathers wanted the citizens armed in order to defend the nation, why did they use "security of a free State"? Why didn't they say that a well regulated militia was necessary to defend the nation? Was the right to keep and bear arms recognized because armed, patriotic citizens were expected to rise up in some military fashion if the country were threatened?

The framers of the Constitution did, in fact, expect that if the nation were threatened, armed citizens would defend it. Based on their knowledge of history of Europe, our founding fathers were opposed to the concept and principle of a standing army. They realized that standing armies were the armed enforcers of the ruling class, thereby making disagreement or dissension difficult or impossible. The alternative to a standing army was a population proficient in the use of guns that could be called upon in case of need.

But the "security of a free State" goes beyond defending the nation from external attack. In order to be truly free, a State, or more precisely, its citizens, must be willing and able to defend against all threats, external and internal.

The reasons for choosing the particular wording for the Second Amendment can be gleaned from the Declaration of Independence.

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. "

A free state was considered one in which citizens had inalienable rights, government derived its power from the governed, and the people had the right to alter or abolish the government if it became tyrannical.

The right of citizens to keep and bear arms is the guarantee of that free state. This right gives the people the ability to alter or abolish a government that has become destructive of the "unalienable rights" endowed by the Creator. In other words, guns are not for the defense of the government. Guns are not just for the defense of the nation. The right to keep and bear arms was written to allow citizens to defend themselves from foreign aggressors and oppressive, tyrannical government. If governments derive their power from the governed, the people need the means to limit the power of government. If the people have the right to alter or abolish a destructive government, the people need definitive means to accomplish that goal. The right to be armed is the means by which the people maintain control over the government. Without this ability to control government power, or to alter or abolish a destructive government, the people are nothing more than slaves once again to an abusive, oppressive political elite.

There is no doubt that the founding fathers intended the United States to be the "free State" identified in the Second Amendment. But they were wise enough to know that any government, no matter how well intentioned at the beginning, could go wrong. The ultimate check on a tyrannical government was the recognition of the rights of citizens to be armed, the expectation that they would be armed, and the expression of their right to rise up as a militia of free citizens to provide for the security of their free state.

The founding fathers chose their words well.

Charles Bloomer is a retired US Navy submarine officer who lives in Northern Virginia. He can be reached at

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